Politics

Sarah Palin loses defamation lawsuit against The New York Times

Key Points
  • A jury found that The New York Times had not libeled Sarah Palin with an editorial linking her political action committee with the 2011 shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona.
  • The jury's verdict in Manhattan federal court came a day after a judge said he would dismiss the suit against the Times by Palin.
  • A former Alaska governor, Palin was the Republican Party's 2008 vice presidential nominee on a ticket headed by the late Sen. John McCain.

In this article

VIDEO0:3700:37
Jury rejects Sarah Palin's libel claim against The New York Times

A jury Tuesday found that The New York Times had not libeled Sarah Palin with an editorial linking her political action committee with the 2011 shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona.

The jury's verdict in Manhattan federal court came a day after a judge said he would dismiss the suit against the Times by Palin, a former Alaska governor who was the Republican Party's 2008 vice presidential nominee.

But Judge Jed Rakoff in making that decision had said he nonetheless would allow the jury to continue its then-ongoing deliberations and reach a verdict.

Rakoff said that he expected Palin to appeal his dismissal. He also said that an appeals court "would greatly benefit from knowing how the jury would decide it."

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin answers questions from the media as she arrives at a federal court in Manhattan on February 15, 2022 in New York.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

The judge's dismissal was due to his finding that Palin had failed to show enough evidence that her reputation had been damaged by the June 2017 editorial.

Tuesday's verdict came three weeks after the trial's kickoff was postponed by Palin's positive test for Covid-19, the second time she had contracted the coronavirus.

Palin, who opposes Covid vaccinations, later dined in outdoor seating in restaurants with others in New York, without any of them wearing masks.

The Times editorial that sparked her suit was written in response to the shooting in June 2017 of then-House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, two Capitol Police special agents, and two other people at a Virginia baseball field where GOP lawmakers were practicing.

The editorial, entitled "America's Lethal Politics," said there was a connection between a 2010 ad by Palin's PAC and the mass shooting of Giffords and others a year later in Arizona.

The ad had shown stylized crosshairs over 20 congressional districts held by Democrats, among them Giffords, that the PAC was targeting to win in the election that year.

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Federal judge to dismiss Sarah Palin's libel case against The NY Times

But there was no evidence that the man who shot Giffords was motivated by the map or other rhetoric by Palin.

The Times within less than a day changed the language of the editorial and published a correction after readers noted there was no connection to the Giffords shooting. But the newspaper did not apologize to Palin, who soon after filed her lawsuit.

Sarah Palin, 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate and former Alaska governor, turns as the verdict is read at her defamation lawsuit trial against the New York Times, at the United States Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., February 15, 2022 in this courtroom sketch.
Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Palin faced a high bar to prove her case because of a 1964 Supreme Court decision, involving another suit against The Times, which requires public figures to show there was "actual malice" by media companies to sustain defamation claims.

Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha, in an emailed statement Tuesday, said, "The New York Times welcomes today's verdict."

"It is a reaffirmation of a fundamental tenet of American law: public figures should not be permitted to use libel suits to punish or intimidate news organizations that make, acknowledge and swiftly correct unintentional errors," the spokeswoman said.

"It is gratifying that the jury and the judge understood the legal protections for the news media and our vital role in American society. We also want to thank the jurors for their careful deliberations in a difficult area of the law."